Thursday, 12 June 2014

Inverarnan to Tyndrum

The Drover's Inn - handsome, but ...
Breakfast at the Drovers Inn was a marginal improvement on dinner the night before, so we went on our way in good heart. The only negative factor was the weather – last evening’s sunshine had not heralded any basic improvement, and it was cloudy and dull.

The A82, the West Highland railway line, a line of power cables and the West Highland Way all share parallel courses up the River Falloch for several kilometres. They all climb steadily. It’s open country apart from the river, which has trees on either side – broadleaves, not conifers, thank goodness. It’s an attractive Highland walk, with several Munros on either side of the valley.

It proved to be fairly busy, with four or five groups of walkers passing us as we climbed. One was a German couple who we had seen the previous day. They had camped overnight. Their only comment was on the midges, which had apparently been particularly bad at Beinglas Farm.

I was treated to an explanation of the railways by Brian. Apparently there were originally two separate lines which both went through Crianlarich – one from Euston and Glasgow to Fort William, and the other from King’s Cross and Edinburgh to Oban. Despite passing through the same valleys for several miles, they weren’t actually linked up until this was forced through by the government in the war. The link was then severed after the war, and only reinstated after nationalisation, when the main stretch from Edinburgh to Crianlarich was closed. Such were the consequences of competing railway companies, though I suspect there are few cases where logic was so studiously ignored.

Falls on the River Falloch
After about four miles the WHW bridges the River Falloch, goes beneath the railway line and road, and climbs to the old military road above the valley. It’s not particularly apparent, but this is over the watershed between the Falloch, which flows South into Loch Lomond and thence to the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Sea, and the River Fillan, which eventually joins the Tay and thus flows Southeast into the North Sea.

The first part of the old military road is easy going, but later it becomes very rough. It’s difficult to imagine that it was ever very good, but apparently it was originally well-engineered and a constant six feet wide. However, that was 300 years ago, so some deterioration is only to be expected. It finally enters a large area of conifer forest just above Crianlarich, which despite being one of the recommended overnight stopping places is actually a kilometre or so away from the WHW.

The woods above Crianlarich
I had misread the contours, and thought we were in for a fairly level walk through the woods. This proved not to be the case. It was actually a fairly steep 100m climb. 100 metres isn’t that challenging, but it seems worse when you had expected level going. The path was good, though. This was one of several areas where there had been serious work on improving the Way. But it was dull, dark conifer country, with little to see apart from the trees and the dark dank ground beneath them. In several places there were trees brought down by the wind, with their root systems vertical and their trunks on the ground. The root systems are surprisingly modest for trees 50 or 60 feet tall.

After descending through the wood it was back across the railway and the A82, and this time the River Fillan, where we stopped for our sandwiches. The next stretch was a big loop through surprisingly verdant riverside meadows.

We had seen what appeared to be large tents as we entered Glen Fillan. These proved to be associated with the Caledonian Challenge, due to take place over the coming weekend. There had been reference to funds raised by a previous such challenge being applied to improvements on the old military road a few miles earlier (not that the improvements were much in evidence), but we didn’t yet know what the challenge involved. There were two huge tents, lighting rigs set up in what appeared to be an area reserved for tents, large pallets with bottles of water, and a gantry marked “Finish”. There was one van, but no-one to ask about the challenge. So it was to remain a mystery for a day or two longer.

Stone commemorating the legend of
Robert the Bruce's lost sword
It was then the final stretch into Tyndrum, through what was described on signs as a local park, though this was not apparent from the map. This was largely scrubby woodland, until close to Tyndrum itself, where there were mature pine trees along the river. There were also memorials of a battle in 1306 between Robert the Bruce and allies of Edward I of England. Nearby there were stones marking the spot where Robert was supposed to have thrown his sword into the local loch. (You can check all this stuff out on the Internet if you’re interested!)

The past. Now they're mining for gold in the nearby hills
The Tyndrum Inn was right on the main road – still the A82 – though the village. This was reasonably comfortable, and there was an opportunity for a lengthy rest before it was time to  collect my niece Elle from Tyndrum Lower station. (Tyndrum is the smallest place in Britain with two stations – a legacy of the two rail companies that developed lines to the Highlands.)

The train was five midge-swatting minutes late. The it was back to the Inn for dinner – haggis, neaps and tatties with whisky sauce, which came as a great pudding-shaped concoction which must have come from a mould, and which was surprisingly good, and excellent value. Brian indulged in haggis as well, and Elle had salad, which she reported was not up to the standard one would expect further South.

Then it was time for us both to say goodbye to Brian, who was due to catch the 0622 train the following morning on his epic journey back to Devon. I had really enjoyed his company – not least because it was so unexpected. I had only told him the previous week that I was doing that part of the walk, and he had gone to the trouble and expense to join me at very little notice. A  very welcome surprise, and it means that I will have company for every day of the fortnight.

Mainly cloudy with one brief shower. 14-17C. Good track; no roads. Max altitude 332m, minimum 5m. 18.5 km. 535m of ascents, 322m descents. Midge factor 1 during day, 3 in evening.

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